Saturday, September 15, 2012

All My Bags Are Packed I'm Ready to Go...

(with apologies to John Denver who wrote the 60's pop hit "Leaving on a Jet Plane") 

Another in a continuing series of blog entries on Thailand and preparations for my move.
My ThinkTank Airport Commuter backpack packed and ready to go to Thailand. 

The worst part of traveling to Thailand is the actual travel part. It's 26 hours in airplanes and airports - a long time in thin metal tubes. Traveling with cameras, especially when you're packing for a year, raises its own issues. 

Normally when I travel I bring my basic kit: two bodies, five lenses, two flashes, battery chargers, memory cards etc. (My MacBook Pros get their own treatment.) All of this gear rides in a ThinkTank Airport Ultralight I've had for years. (The Ultralight is now discontinued but if you can find one it's a great small camera backpack that holds a lot more gear than you think it will.)

This is not a normal trip though and I decided I need to bring everything

Everything is a lot. 

Everything absolutely will not fit not into an Airport Ultralight. 

I picked up the next larger bag, the Airport Commuter for this trip. The trick is to find a bag roomy enough for my gear but small enough to  fit into overhead bins, including the tiny overhead bins in regional jets. I chose a backpack, rather than a wheeled bag, because wheeled bags have to be gate checked on most regional jets. The Commuter is just one size bigger than the Ultralight, but that was enough. I was able to get almost everything into the Commuter (a couple of pieces are packed into my checked bags). 

This is how I packed the Airport Commuter. 

1) 5D Mark III (with battery grip) and 40mm lens at the left center. The sliver of red in the photo is my PeeWee Pixel Pocket Rocket, which holds 4 Compact Flash cards and 3 Secure Digital cards. All of these cards are 16 gigibyte Sandisk cards. 

2) 5D Mark II body with battery grip. 

3) Memory cards in ThinkTank card wallets. A mix of Pixel Pocket Rockets (for CF cards) and SD Pixel Pocket Rocket (for SD cards)    

4) Flashes. Canon 580EX II (on the bottom), 430EX II (on top) and a tiny 270EX (also on top). There's another 430EX II in checked baggage.

5) (in the red lens wrap) 5 and 9 are one big compartment in the backpack. 5 refers to a 16-35 zoom, under the zoom is my 300 f4, next to the zoom are my ThinkTank battery wallets (grey and green), 9 is on a Canon teleconverter, next to my 15mm fisheye (in gray pouch). 

6) Canon and Panasonic battery chargers. 

7) Canon 24mm f1.4 L lens. 

8) Canon 100mm f2 lens, my 50mm f1.2 L lens is beneath it. 

10) Canon 200mm f2.8 L lens, next to the lens is a ThinkTank Strobe Gel Wallet, for colored gels I occasionally use with flash. 

11) Canon ST-E2 wireless flash controller. 

12) Canon 5D Mark II body. 

13) The top of the backpack. I drop all sorts of miscellaneous stuff here. Passport photos, pens, batteries. Loose bits of flotsam I don't know what else to do with.

Here is where it gets tricky. This bag fits into the overhead bins of most commercial jets with no problems. It's a very tight fit in the regional jets. In fact I have to take some stuff out to squeeze it down to where it will fit. 

I wear a Scottevest when I travel. The Scottevests have a ridiculous number of big pockets. Before I board the regional jet I pull the stuff that pushes up the top of backpack (the 16-35, 100 f2 and loose stuff in the mesh pockets on the lid) and put that stuff into pockets in the vest. I reclose the backpack and compress it as much as a I can and wiggle it into the overhead bin. It ain't pretty and I look like the Michelin Man when I waddle on (and off) the plane, but it lets me keep all of my gear with me. 

A logical question is how much does this weigh? Around 50 pounds. It's one of the reasons I fly United to Asia. Cabin service is much better on Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines but they have strict carryon limits. United, which is also cheaper, does not. United's limits are entirely based on volume. If it fits, it ships. Or goes with me as the case may be. 

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